|Stephen Borsody: The Hungarians: A Divided Nation|
Charter 77 and the Hungarian Minority
One of the objectives of the Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Hungarian Minority in Czechoslovakia has been to establish contact with the Czech Charter 77 civil rights movement. The first communication took place in May 1979. Through a personal envoy, the committee sent its memorandum on the violation of Hungarian nationality rights (Annex II) with a cover letter expressing the hope for cooperation between the two human rights movements. Unlike on another occasion during the postwar terror - when an appeal by the Hungarian anti-fascist writer Zoltan Fabry to the Czech Writers' Union was ignored - the Czech reaction this time was sympathetic. Encouraged, the Hungarian Committee sent another document in October 1979, specifically prepared for the participants of the Charter 77 movement. The excerpts below are from that document and from its cover letter addressed to the Charter 77 movement as "Esteemed Fellow Citizens! Friends!" It was also included in the information material circulated among the participants of the Helsinki follow-up conference in Madrid (1982).
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Incidentally, following his release in 1983 from detention, Miklos Duray issued a letter of thanks addressed to all those "Hungarians and non-Hungarians" from Hungary, Western Europe, and the United States who expressed their solidarity with him, as well as to "Hungarians, Slovaks and Czechs" in Czechoslovakia. And, calling the Charter 77 declaration on his behalf "particularly precious," Duray asked to be included among the Charter 77 signatories. Miklos Duray's letter, composed after his release from detention in 1983, was written in Hungarian and Slovak. It appeared in its original versions in the emigre periodicals, Magyar Fuzetek, no. 13, and Svedectvi, nos. 70-71, both published in Paris. The full text of the memorandum and cover letter to participants of Charter 77 was published in Hungarian by Magyar Fuzetek, no. 6.
Information and thoughts are traveling only with great difficulty from Czechoslovakia's eastern parts to its western borders-and this is due not only to the country's elongated shape but also to lack of common historical traditions. Very few people in central Bohemia know what is happening in southwestern and southern Slovakia, and hardly anyone knows the problems of that region. Extending for over 500 kilometers, the south Slovak region of roughly ten thousand square kilometers is the home of the Hungarian minority. It has belonged to the Republic since 1918 with the exception of six years during World War II [when it was returned to Hungary]. Administratively, the [Czechoslovak] state has tried from the very beginning by rigorous measures to fuse this region with the rest of the country. Yet, even during that democratic era [after World War I], the integration met with little success. And today, the desperate cries of the Hungarians, who make up 12 percent of Slovakia's population, are drowned in the labyrinth of an oppressive political system. . . .
In 1968, during the four months of a budding new democracy, the Hungarian minority stepped forward - judiciously but resolutely and demanded the solution of the nationality problem. The result of this action was the Constitutional Law No. 144 of 1968. However, during the past decade, the almost unpenetrable wall preventing the solution of the nationality problem has been rising ever higher. The issue of Hungarian nationality has passed from nationwide [Czechoslovak] jurisdiction under the ever more willful authority of Slovakia.
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Recently, under the veil of phoney measures which conceal the true situation, reckless elements- with official support-have been rampaging in order to annihilate the nationality rights [of the Hungarian minority]. Past experience proves that solution of the nationality problem can be approached only on a nationwide level. The right of action cannot be transferred to the leadership of a narrow region, if for no other reason, because this problem was born with the Czechoslovak Republic itself.
Since 1968, during the period of so-called consolidation, the leaders of the Hungarian minority dedicated to democracy and human rights for the national minorities have been sidetracked and branded anti-Socialist and right-wing nationalist. . . .
In the attached report we have summed up our opinion of the country's domestic policies and nationality policies, as well as some of the salient facts concerning the past and present situation of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia. We would like you to get acquainted with our position and discuss it. The results of such a debate would be most instructive for us. Nor do we deny our distant hope that, after getting acquainted with our situation, you will support our cause in the spirit of our shared principles. . . .
It so happened that often in the history of Central European nations Hungarian successes entailed Czech defeats, or Czech aspirations have succeeded in defiance of Hungarian interests. Yet, we also like to remember instances when Czechs and Hungarians have met on the field of solidarity. Unfortunately, friendly handshakes have never influenced the official policies of our nations. In the course of the last hundred years, Hungarian and Czech - or, later, Czechoslovak-interests have clashed in fatal conflicts. . . .
During the last sixty years, it was the existence of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia that caused friction and conflicts in Czechoslovak-Hungarian relations. This is true today, too. . . . As a result of conditions that have developed since 1968, the situation of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia has reached an unprecedented low point. This is part and parcel of the total deformation of Czechoslovak society, it reflects the general disintegration of legal and constitutional safeguards, the catastrophic retreat from European ideals. . . .
The Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Hungarian Minority in Czechoslovakia is a more recent independent branch of
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the civil rights movement in Czechoslovakia. Its fate is bound up with that of other similar movements, and it assumes solidarity with them on that account. Its coming into existence is due partly to general political conditions, and partly to the specific anti-minority measures in Slovakia. The Committee believes that redress of Hungarian grievances is achievable primarily through realization of the principles of democracy, because democracy and minority rights are inseparable. Other aberrations of Czechoslovak society, too, are curable only by democratic means. Therefore, the struggle for democracy is the common cause of all citizens and of all nationalities in the Republic. The principles of democracy are the same in Prague and in Komarom [in southern Slovakia], and it is our common interest, too, that democracy should prevail.
The London Memorandum
In 1980-81, the Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Hungarian Minority in Czechoslovakia prepared a lengthy memorandum entitled "The Hungarian Minority in Czechoslovakia" for the London-based Minority Rights Group. Its intended English translation from the Hungarian has so far not materialized. However, the Paris-based Dialogues Europeens, an informal group of progressive Hungarian exiles and dissidents, published the original Hungarian text under the sponsorship of its periodical, Magyar Fuzetek. The following excerpt, entitled "Summary," is translated from that publication. See the original "Report from Slovakia on the State of the Hungarian Minority," in Magyar Fuzetek Books, no. 4 (Paris, 1982), 66-70.
One million Hungarians were severed from their mother country and transferred to Czechoslovakia by the frontiers drawn in the wake of World War I. Three quarters of these Hungarians are still living in Czechoslovakia while one quarter became Soviet subjects when the Soviet Union seized Carpatho-Ruthenia and incorporated it into the Ukraine after World War II. The frontier after World War I was
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drawn with disregard for ethnic and historical factors, without consulting the local populace-it was to satisfy the strategic claims of the newborn Czechoslovak state, then an ally of the victorious powers.
The Hungarians did suffer discrimination in Czechoslovakia between the two world wars, but international minority protection and the democratic constitution of the new state made their situation, in general, tolerable. Yet, it is only natural that they never lost their sense of belonging to the mother country and, following Munich, they greeted with enthusiasm the First Vienna Award in 1938, which returned the bulk of the contiguous Hungarian population to Hungary.
Since Hungary again landed on the losing side in World War II, boundaries were restored to the prewar status quo. However, this was not enough for the Czechoslovak politicians returning from exile. They put the blame for the collapse of the first republic on the national minorities - among them, the Hungarians. Their aim was the "final solution" of the minority problem.
All Hungarians of restored Czechoslovakia were stripped of their citizenship rights; nearly 100,000 were forcibly expelled to Hungary; about 50,000 were deported inside the republic; and more than 300,000 Hungarians were forced to declare themselves "Magyarized" Slovaks. Nevertheless, the complete liquidation of the Hungarian minority did not succeed. At first it was the western powers that raised objections, then - following the Communist takeover in 1948-the Soviet Union opposed open hostility between peoples under their rule; and, last but not least, the tenacious attachment of Hungarians to their national identity made things less than easy for their Czechoslovak oppressors.
Thus, the state of total lawlessness ceased in 1948; Czechoslovak citizenship of Hungarians was restored. The deported Hungarian peasants were allowed to return to their villages. The "Magyarized Slovaks" gradually became Hungarians again. In due course, the Hungarian minority made good even the demographic losses suffered by forcible expulsions.
1948, however, also meant the inauguration of a new, more subtle, less open and more underhanded policy aiming at the liquidation of the Hungarian minority. Up to 1968, this policy had not reached its full pitch. The centralist regime of President Novotny was largely occupied by conflicts between Czechs and Slovaks; therefore, manifestations of Slovak nationalism were curbed. Only following the
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Soviet intervention in 1968, and the destruction of the reformist movement, did the Moscow-oriented Slovak nationalism receive a shot in the arm and gain decisive weight in the political life of the country. The "cold" liquidation of the Hungarian minority has now become a government program of the Slovak Socialist Republic in federally reorganized Czechoslovakia. As a result, the demographic, economic, and cultural development of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia has considerably slowed down. . . . [The no-growth demographic situation is also due to assimilation.]
The main causes of assimilation are: internal migration and mixed marriages. Young people quite often cannot find any kind of job near enough to their birthplace. Mixed marriages are a comparatively new phenomenon, but they are on the increase, especially as far as women are concerned. Yet, on the whole, the Hungarian minority seems to resist the pressures of assimilation, their loyalty to their nationality is unbroken.
The total development of the social structure offers, however, a less favorable picture. The changes in political power, the open persecution of Hungarians going on for years, and the radical transformation of the social composition, ensuing from a Soviet-style regime, have all worked toward the elimination of the Hungarian intelligentsia and educated middle class. The preponderance of industrial and agricultural workers contrasts unfavorably with the overall social composition in Slovakia as a whole, let alone with that of the more developed Czech lands. The bulk of Hungarians in industry is made up of unskilled laborers - particularly in the building trades - who, as a rule, only find work far away from home. It is true that the fast rate of industrialization in Slovakia following 1968 has affected the social and economic development of the Hungarian minority, too. But key investments are deliberately directed toward the Slovak-speaking areas. Furthermore, the demand for skilled workers for factories built in Hungarian areas cannot be met by Hungarians, because of lack of training. Thus, Slovak-speaking craftsmen and engineers are transferred to these areas. In this manner, industrial development is becoming another tool of dispersion and intermingling, thereby weakening the social cohesion of the Hungarian minority.
Proper participation in social and industrial expansion depends largely on acquiring higher education. In this respect open discrimination against the Hungarians is the rule. In the primary schools,
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attended by the six- to fifteen-year-olds, one-fifth of Hungarian children are compelled to study in Slovak. The authorities are untiring in their efforts to grind down Hungarian as a language of instruction. . . . The decisive setback the Hungarian young suffer is in quality of secondary education. Pupils of Hungarian schools who qualify for entrance examinations in institutions of higher learning make up only 22 percent of their age group. Even if one adds the Hungarians studying in Slovak, a total of only 30 percent stay for further education, while about 40 percent of the Slovaks do. In the age group of nineteen-year-olds and above the ratio is even worse, six percent for Hungarians compared to eighteen percent for the Slovaks. The Slovaks have the advantage, too, of studying in their mother tongue, while the number of Hungarians who may carry on their higher studies in their mother tongue is an insignificant percentage.
The use of the Hungarian language is discouraged not only in the field of education. In practice, no Hungarian may be used in offices or in administration. Hungarian notices and signposts have been eliminated everywhere. Even the use of Hungarian personal names - and of names of villages - is being discouraged. In industry, Hungarian workers are forbidden to speak their language, even among themselves. Those Hungarians who dare to stick up for the use of their language are the target of constant abuse. They are told to speak "the language of the state." Spontaneous manifestations of chauvinistic hostility are not only officially tolerated; they are actually fueled by an insidious propaganda directed from above.
In the ruling political system of Czechoslovakia today, minorities in general, and the Hungarians in particular, have no means to organize themselves in order to defend their interests. Even the high clergy of the Slovak Roman Catholic Church manage to be openly anti-Hungarian despite their own grievances against the state. Unlike the Catholic Church, the Calvinist Church is overwhelmingly Hungarian. But this does not make it any easier for them to stand up for minority rights.
Earlier on, particularly during the process of democratization in 1968, CSEMADOK (Cultural Association of Hungarian Workers in Czechoslovakia) succeeded in acquiring a measure of political influence. However, following the Soviet occupation of the country, CSEMADOK was expelled from the National Front and thus, for all practical purposes, the Hungarian minority was left without
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representation. Therefore, the Hungarians of Czechoslovakia have been recently compelled to turn to forms of defense of their rights which are officially proscribed.
The policy of discrimination systematically pursued against the Hungarian population affects not only its immediate victims. At a sensitive meeting point of East and West, conflicts over minorities provided the cause, or pretext, for several conflagrations - among them two world wars. In this region problems of oppressed minorities have been festering for two centuries, poisoning the relationships among countries and peoples thrown together, for better or worse, by geography and history. Their mutual enmity has always given opportunities to great powers for aggressive interventions, for playing off one small nation against the other. Last but not least, the oppression of minorities violates fundamental human rights and frustrates any truly democratic development in the countries of the region.
The Bratislava Incident
Buildings and offices of Hungarian cultural institutions were vandalized in Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Socialist republic, during the night of March 8, 1987.
On this occasion, Charter 77 issued a statement addressed to the Federal Government and the Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia. Following is an excerpt from this document. (Charter 77, No. 23187.)
We are convinced that relations among nationalities of the state can be influenced by its citizens and that the constitutional organs have a special responsibility to keep the peace. We demand, therefore, that you devote maximum effort to the investigation of these terrorist acts.
|Stephen Borsody: The Hungarians: A Divided Nation|